Development of mushroom industry in the face of decreasing income from mushroom growth

Development of mushroom industry in the face of decreasing income from mushroom growth

Nikodem Sakson

Presentation no „Mega konferencja” 6 September 2018 Janów Podlaski

 Decreasing Income

Income from mushroom growth have been decreasing slowly for last few years. This decrease is estimated at 30-40 percentage points. The reason for this is concentration of sales to retailers, who maintain fixed prices in Euro, that are paid to providers, although the production costs are constantly rising. This situation hasn’t changed for years. EU doesn’t want to intervene into mushroom market. The trend of decreasing income from mushroom production has Europe-wide range.

During the last period, the decrease in income has sped up, because of increase in work costs and energy etc. This increase will be constant. It can get even bigger if the inflation is higher. Another dangerous thing are higher prices of raw materials, like substratum, when there is a lack of straw on the market. One has to take into consideration decreasing amount of public help, whether to single investors or for the groups of producers. Some kind of security for this events can be a weakening of zloty for those producers, that export mushrooms and get constant price in foreign currency. But the example of Pound shows that this rule is not proven. The question still remains, what is next after Brexit? There is no doubt nowadays, that the state of Polish mushroom industry is dependent on EU, and not Polish markets.

At the moment the industry reacts to the decrease of income by increasing the surface area of growing space and vertical concentration. There are also fewer producers, which is accompanied by bigger production (that are the result of new investments into increase of the surface) in remaining producers. One has to consider the possibility that those trends will run out because of restrictions of growth, that are the result of lack of workers for picking mushrooms, and problems with managing bigger companies.

What actions are being taken to counteract the decrease?

Those actions can be divided into four groups:

  1. Improvement of organization and reduction of costs of production. Those themes are being discussed during meetings with producers, that are written about in “Pieczarka” bulletin.
  2. Acquisition of bigger parts of profit margins in circulation of mushrooms by its producers.

Attempts of acquisition of parts of profit margins can be observed in different improvement strategies that can be noticed in Europe. For example:

– Monaghan Mushrooms. Analysing changes that are done in this company, it can be pointed out, that it is trying to improve its financial results by vertical integration; it tries to take over profit margin from raw materials, shorten mushrooms’ transport by buying mushroom production plants in countries, where there is the biggest consumption, sell mushrooms individually, under its own trademark to retailers, that would allow it to gain additional profit by gaining consumers’ approval.

– Green Yard. This company can potentially gain increase in margin profits by rationalization of transportation and a position of complex supplier of retailers and developing their own trademark.

– Polish mushroom producers. They have limited possibilities of increasing the profit margin, because they usually provide mushrooms to brokers, who are focused on providing the merchandise to retailers, and it is wholesales that are focused on supplying fresh markets, restaurants etc. in which the origin or trademark is not important. Besides there is no such thing as „Polish mushroom” trademark, marketing abroad is done on a limited scale, and being a part of commercial events is rare.Stands available during these events are modest. Whereas producers groups, that have developed in Poland, absorb the advantage customers have over the producers in comparison to other countries, where such groups are basically non-existent.

  1. Other potential profits that can be gained from running a mushroom production plant: sale of substrate after the yield for its further processing, connecting aggregates that are in producer’s possession into energy networks etc.
  2. Technological changes in the process of mushrooms production.The main goal would be to maximize the income and decrease of production costs.

The state and improvement of technology of mushrooms growth in Poland

Technologies of production of raw materials and of growth of mushrooms nowadays point out to the limit of growth at the level of average of 33 kg/m2 of mushrooms during the year (M. den Ouden Mushroom Signals). Both compost and substrate that is produced nowadays as technology of growth don’t allow reaching stable yield of mushrooms. The fluctuations are significant and equal from 28 to 40 kg/m2.

In the situation when to cover the costs of production it will be necessary to reach the average yield of around 33 kg/m2 of mushrooms yearly, this fact will force the producers to change the model of improvement based on known technologies, developed during the production practices, to the model based on development of new technologies based on results of scientific research. Those new technologies will have to be able to maintain competitiveness of Polish mushrooms on the EU markets by constant increase of yield and maintaining highest quality, usefulness for long transportation, and with the costs lower than the competitors. It also will have to stop the decrease in profitability of production. It will be also necessary to limit or even eliminate picking during weekends and implementation of gathering adapted to client’s needs.

  1. What yield and quality of mushrooms are provided by changes in technology of mushrooms production developed in Poland?

Developed technology (Pieczarkarnia Chełkowscy, Hajduk raw materials, E-58 Premium Euromycel mycelium) allows to reach a yield of 40 kg/m2 in three flushes, with limited variability of volume weight of picked fruiting bodies (white and shapely) and minimum seven days shelf life, and minimal loss of weight of fruiting bodies, that are correctly cooled and stored after picking (phot.1).

Phot. 1 This is the quality and size we are expecting to get constantly.

Keeping the constant volume weight for the whole period of yield allows to increase the efficiency for 30%. It would allow for keeping the need for the workforce for picking at the same level and increasing the salaries without increasing or reducing the cost of picking. Those results were achieved in conditions that were unfavourable for growth – at the end of spring and at the beginning of summer, were the air temperature was hot, the humidity was low and there were a lot of changes of parameters during the day in very short periods of time. This would mean, that seasonal changes in yield could be eliminated.

  1. What elements of technology were changed to gain appropriate benefits:
  2. Using supplements in average doses of 2,5 kg/m2 (Aril KK Standard) with the amount of substrate on the level of 81-83 kg/m2 and with balanced dosage of water poured into the substrate. Aril KK Premium is used – it is a new generation supplement, which has features similar to the compost.It enlarges the water capacity of substrate, allows for better control of air temperature during the whole process of production, which reduces the cost of cooling the substrate (“Pieczarka” Bulletin no. 4/2017, 1/2018and 2/ /2018).
  3. Controlling the way mushrooms behave during the period of growth based on the process of evapotranspiration with the usage of Piche’s evaporimeter. Right now tests are conducted with using this evaporimeter with a bigger area of the paper roll, which would allow for the hourly reading.
  4. Efficient system of regulation of air humidity.
  5. A program of additional irrigation before the yield begins.
  6. Controlling the ORP of water that is used in mushrooms production and using calcium chloride.
  7. Growth in conditions of high overpressure of air in the cultivation hall, which allows for an equalized air movement in every spot of the shelf and eliminating loses which are a result of unequal air movement. At the moment those loses in Poland are from 5 to 15% depending of the cultivation halls construction or equipment. It also allows for achieving needed temperatures in the substrate, which is very important when using substrates that are highly active. Thanks to this the nutrients are used more efficiently and the loss of energy which is a result of development of unwanted microflora is prevented. The other thing is controlling the way the mycelium behaves in the periods between the flushes. This effect was achieved by installing a new fan produced in Promont. It has a wide range of static pressure (nominal is 1850 Pascal’s), which by changing the rotations of the fan can be adjusted to every phase of growth and to the experiences of controlling the production process. To keep the higher overpressure in the cultivation hall, Promont additionally designed new type of over pressurising shutters with the possibility of setting the starting value of overpressure manually. Additional values of installing a new Promont fan allow for introduction of new solution into air coolers. Thanks to this technology accumulation and retention of condensate between the lamellae of the exchangers were eliminated and resistance of air flow in the coolers was reduced. Also the transportation of condensate on the heater was eliminated.

Another phase of modernization of equipment for controlling the parameters of air is expansion of coolers – enlarging the area of heat exchange. It will allow to increase their cooling efficiency and reinforcement with water (aqueous glycol solution) of higher temperature, without reducing the effectiveness of air cooling. At the same time desiccation of cooled air will be reduced.

A device that would pour water on the fans turbine to raise the humidity of exiting air will also be needed.

  1. Selective picking. It was observed, that even though selective picking was implemented there was an influence on the yield with maintaining constant volume weight of different picking brigades was equal 2 kg\m2. That means that different workers pick different number of fruiting bodies at the same amount of time.

Changes in the technology of growth described above were verified in practice. Their spread is conditioned by different factors, such as:

  1. The ability to use supplements chosen by the mushrooms producer. Right nowit is very limited. It usually needs independent sowing using a combine, during loading to the cultivation hall.
  2. Piche’s evaporimeter is burdensome in usage, because of its size and of the fact it can be easily damaged during the yield. Maintaining previously specified levels of evapotranspiration means that the air’s parameters need to be set manually; mainly the humidity, which in this situation is a priority. To maintain the ratio of evaporation and the relative level of humidity some experience is needed. Some work was undertaken to construct an evaporimeter that would allow to measure the level of evapotranspiration in feedback system, that would send a signal to the controller, which could make the process of maintaining desired evaporation level automatic. One has also to assess the ratio of evaporation and the way mushrooms behave and correct it if needed.
  3. The humidification systems usually work inefficiently. That is why a system of humidifying the floor of cultivation hall has to be installed. In case of a drop of relative humidity in the cultivation hall this system is activated first, and then the device to humidify the air. If the air movement is high there is a need to keep the constant level of relative humidity in the air at 94% during the picking period. In other cases the evapotranspiration is too high, and the fruiting bodies grow too fast and lose their weight.

To maintain high overpressure special kind of fans and coolers are needed. To control the level of overpressure one has to have a fitting sensor, that would be connected to the controlling system. This solution is being researched.

  1. Can systematic increase in yield improve the economic situation of mushroom producers? The answer is the worth of additional kilogram of yield gained by changing the technology. Assuming that the mushrooms are being grown on the phase III substrate and that there are 8,5 cycles in the year, with the price of 3,50 – 4,00 Zlotys (after subtracting the cost of picking) we get the amount of 29,75 – 34, 00 PLN/m2. When the area of growth is 1000 m2 the amount equals to 29 750 – 34 000 zlotys. Assuming that the average yield is 32 kg/m2 that means that the average difference in the potential income (8 kg/m2 of potential increase) means that the potential increase of income is from 238,00 to 272,00 PLN/m2. With the growth area equal to 1000 m2 the potential increase of income can be equal 238 000-272 000 zlotys yearly. The higher the increase in yield, the higher the additional income, because the constant costs are lower, they are divided into bigger mass of produced mushrooms. The costs of production are also lower, the yield is higher when the raw materials costs stay the same. Those effects can be achieved without a demand for more workforce, because the higher yield is achieved by enlarging the weight of the fruiting bodies, not their amount. Additionally maintaining good conditions of growth of mushrooms reduces the losses that are the effect of diseases, and high overpressure keeps the dipteral away from the cultivation hall. It didn’t increase the cost of disinfection treatments, because those results were achieved without using pesticides during the production in cultivation halls, where there was no thermal disinfection.
  2. Who are the proposed changes addressed to and what is the industry’s reaction on the proposed directions of development of technology of growth?

Changes proposed in this article will be made mainly by market. Those mushrooms producers will be viewed as potential clients, whose main goal of growth is gaining profit, and who will base their production decisions on economic calculation, and who analyse received information based on their merits. So the credibility of those information is not based on the person that gives them. Those producers are oriented towards development based on scientific research and results of developing works. They accept the fact, that proposed changes come with a certain risk and implementation costs, as with unexpected effects. They also accept the need of some organisational effort and gaining access to employees that are interested in changes of technology of production, independently of the size of the company. They are keen on further learning and studying and do not accept the myths that are essential part of behaviour and interpretation of events that accompany technology of growth in its current state. The alternative solution to this is improving current technology in its current concept of production based on experience and development through mastering the art of cultivating mushrooms.

Proposed change in the technology of growth is not met with interest in Poland nor in Europe. It is too radical and it significantly differs from currently used technology, which is promoted intensely by Dutch. Lack of interest in this technology by producers from different countries can be very favourable for Polish producers, when it will become more widespread, because it can provide competitiveness. The more the technology is opposed and the profits are bigger, the more significant the level of competitiveness.

Noticeable change in mushroom producers’ behaviour in Poland to its growth is increasing interest in supplements.

What is next?

Is the answer to the question: which direction will the mushroom production system in Poland take in the perspective of longer amount of time?

It is my point of view, that more modern system is producing mushrooms on more industrial level. The main weakness of current system is the human factor. This factor’s influence on the production results has to be minimalized because of the availability of workforce and the level of their qualification.

Research and developmental work

Research and developmental work are being conducted in Poland on wide scale. They should be concentrated on goals, that will allow the producers to gain bigger profit by increasing the yield, without or with minimal increase of the costs, and that would allow for an industrialization of the process of mushrooms production:

  1. Standardization of raw material and development of their production, especially substrate. Standardization is a set of actions, whose goal is to develop a technology of production that would allow for a repetitive quality and ability to produce substrate that would guarantee the expected level of yield even above 40 kg/m2 (under condition that the control of mushrooms behaviour in the cultivation hall is proper). Substrate’s production must also solve the problem of unpleasant odour and better use of straw, loss of which is up to 40% during the production. The question remains: can used substrate be reused as a substrate with new assumptions? New supplements for substrate are meant to create the conditions for a mushrooms equal yield in every flush – at the same level as during the first flush. Further works will concentrate on the composition of supplements. Supplements have to be better used by mushrooms and support nutrition in the second and third flush. There are some works conducted with using hydrogel and micro- and macro elements that support the nutrition.
  2. Automation of the process of growth of pins and fruiting bodies. It has to provide: maximal yield of the best quality, equal to the abundance of substrate, the possibility of controlling of the produced assortment of fruiting bodies – in time adjusted to received orders. It allows for effective use of robots during the picking process thanks to observation of the behaviour of pins and fruiting bodies, prediction of their behaviour and its effective controlling.
  3. Introducing robots into picking process. Benefits of introducing robots is not only gradual substitution of human workforce by them, but possibility to conduct picking of the fruiting bodies with the biggest volume weight and best quality during whole 24 hours. This issue is the interest of the Polish company FX-Tronik. A project POIR.01.02.00-00-0239/17 was submitted in the 8/1.2/2017/POIR INNOSBZ competition. “The effect of the project’s implementation will be an autonomic system of controlling and picking mushrooms. Unique qualities of this system, that differentiates it from competition is: full automation of mushroom picking and high efficiency, universality and mobility, monitoring of mushrooms before the yield, scalability, cooperation of any number of devices”. Other studies are conducted by Dutch company Cerescon B. V.
  4. Elimination of losses caused by disease and pests with minimal use or eliminating pesticides. In number 2/2018 of “Pieczarka” bulletin a research program was described, which main goal is to use mycoselective casing soil and mycoselective substrate for mushrooms production.
  5. Introduction of new, more demanding races of mushrooms into the production process. Those races have big volume weight, have other shapes and colour, and need best conditions to grow and reach enough substrate. Changes in this field are minimal.
  6. Energy savings. The energy can be saved not only by using new, modernised installations or new Energy sources, but also by introducing such solutions into production process, that would use the smallest possible energy for one unit of yield.

Nowadays there are a lot of companies conducting improvement and research programsthat are financed by EU or by private funds. There are or emerge R&D (Research & Development) centres. The scope of those researches have a developmental trend. Scientific backgrounds are created and developed in companies producing materials and in new business entities receiving national or EU’s help for their research, main goal of which is to create innovation.

But conducting research alone doesn’t translate into success – a new way of approach is needed. First of all they have to concentrate on industry’s essential problems and to solve them in an innovative way. The researches have to be conducted methodically, and their results have to be quickly implemented into practice. In my opinion, presenting a new way of approaching technology’s development, which is based on the statement that the cultivation of mushrooms is controlled process of its nutrition, gives us such possibilities. Especially taking into consideration that academic achievements in this field are very big. From the methods point of view it is essential that the rule that one experimental room cannot be occupied by research in which different variants concentrate on different activities of the substrate, be obeyed. In these situations the results can be more dependent on the microclimate, which could be more fitting to Agaricus, and influence its yield, than on variant, which would need different microclimate conditions.

The industry will decide which way the development in Poland will go. Independently the technology of growth will develop, based on achieved results and conducted research. The increase in the level of yield is still possible over previous level of 40 kg/m2.The knowledge in this domain will still be gathered and verified in practice.

Polska wersja artykułu / Polish version